How the “Shallow Depth of Field” Contest-Winning Photo Was Taken

Last week on our facebook page, we did a contest with the theme “Shallow Depth of Field.”  Over 1,100 people entered the contest with their shallow DOF photos and it was REALLY fun looking through all of the creative entries.  Most of the photos were portraits, but there were quite a few non-people photos in there as well.

The winner of the contest was Rachel Jones for her photo that is pictured below.  For those of you who missed them, the runner up and honorable mention photos are linked below as well.

Winner: Rachel Jones (pictured below)

The runner up is Cheryl Robinson Cramer for this photo–

Honorable mention: Ashley Mendenhall Moss:

Honorable Mention: Judy Tomlinson –

Honorable Mention: Robynn Jablonski –


Contest-winning photo by Rachel Jones

Photo by Rachel Jones. Used with permission.  Aperture: f/2.8, Shutter speed: 1/1600s, and ISO:400

I asked Rachel to write up a quick post to describe how she made her contest-winning photo and she was nice enough to do it.  Here’s Rachel…

“Look, it’s snow!”, a sweet little four year old said as we walked into the park. Our 5 minute walk from our cars had been filled with snow, but her pure wonderment, and joy at that moment could not have been more sincere. That sincere wonder is what I tried to capture in my image.

It was important to me to not only showcase my subject/her happiness, but to also showcase the object of her happiness. People often get so focused on one part or level of their subject, so of course, their portrait only includes one aspect of their subject. If the snow wasn’t also a prominent part of my image, it wouldn’t really communicate her love for it, would it?

I shoot with a Canon EOS Rebel XS camera, and for this image I shot with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 lens. My settings: Aperture: f/2.8, Shutter speed: 1/1600s, and ISO:400. My image SOOTC was a bit on the dark side, so I corrected that and added a bit of “polish” to my image in Photoshop CS5. Sometimes I use “Textures” on my images to enhance colors, but this image was edited using only the knowledge I gained through my Bachelor’s degree from BYU-Idaho.

I just want to quickly add that I am so grateful for the compliment of winning this contest, and all the compliments given from the fans of Improve Photography, thank you! I hope my image will inspire you to do more then praise the camera, lens, and the creator of it. I hope it will inspire you to learn more about photography, your love for it, your style and place in it, and the joy that is shared with it. I think that Improve Photography has given many (including myself) a wonderful opportunity to learn how to better understand the Art of being a photographer, but I hope you won’t stop here! Don’t just read about it, do it! And don’t just practice it, create/communicate with it!”

See more of Rachel’s work on her website:







  1. stan

    Not a bad photo, don’t think it is a winner class photo though. I wish it was an unedited photo contest. The snow flake looks ultra fake…not sure if is or not.
    Would it look better in black or white? My eyes are drawn to her jacket.

  2. Author
    Jim Harmer

    Stan – It takes a LOT of gumption to criticize a winner when you either didn’t participate or didn’t win. It shows poor sportsmanship.

    Improve Photography is a place where photographers come to support, help, and uplift each other–not a place to criticize those who didn’t ask for criticism.

  3. Carina Potts

    Well said, Jim! I don’t understand why there are so many people who want to take the fun out of photography. A photo is someone’s art, it’s the way they saw beauty in that moment, who are we to criticize that? I get tired of seeing other people scrutinize every little detail of a photograph. Either like it, or don’t like it, but don’t tear it apart!

    This is a gorgeous photo and a great example of DOF. I think the pink on her jacket adds a nice splash of color to a beautiful snowy photo. Congrats on your win, Rachel!

  4. Zach Blackwood

    I personally love this photo. It does have a sense of wonder/mystery in her eyes. Perfectly focused, and I absolutely agree with the photographer that having the snow and the bokeh from the background snow really makes the picture more complete.

    Browsing through the winner and runner-ups, this one did give me that “whoah, what a great shot!” moment.

  5. Nigel

    I actually think Stan has a valid point Jim,I agree that it is not a good thing to criticise all the time but without it no one will learn or experiment with different options. I too don’t think this is a winning photo,but then again I haven’t seen all the entries so maybe it is. Stan made a valid observation about the coller taking the eye and I have to agree with him,maybe it would look better in Black and White.People will always give their opinions whether you like it or not,just because you don’t like what they say doesn’t mean their comments are invalid. Stans views are just as important as the next and should be taken on board.After all its someone’s opinion and cannot be discounted.

  6. Scott Brumfield

    Rachel’s picture is great and even if it wasn’t the judges say it is.

    As for not using Photoshop, Lightroom or some other type of software would be like telling a film photographer not to use a darkroom to develop his film. Digital photos as taken are no different than film in that they need to be developed to get the most out of them. Also, photography is an Art and if the artist has mad Photoshop skills more power to them.

    Learn the trade, have passion about it and be a good person. If you look at someone else’s work and are jealous you need a heart check. Enjoy life and have a true passion for photography means I am excited to see the great things others create with their photography and inspiration I can draw from to help me create better things.

    Sorry for the letter Jim but I just had to put my 2 cents in… Thanks for such a great site and the knowledge and inspiration you share.

  7. Nigel

    Just for the record,if you apply a Red filter to the image it looks totally different…now to me it looks great..!!!!
    But then again that’s just my opinion.
    Well done to the winner.

  8. Author
    Jim Harmer

    @Nigel – There is no doubt that constructive criticism can be VERY helpful.

    But keep in mind that those who arrogantly criticize those who haven’t asked for it will rarely provide any help. In fact, it usually just discourages people.

  9. Kimberly

    All of the entries were beautiful and unique in their own way. I know I have caught a special look on the face of my children and for me those memories are precious. Art is subjective and I’ve really enjoyed seeing all the different talent! Big thank you to improve photography for taking time to go through all those entries!

  10. Emily

    I think it’s fabulous. So we all have our opinions. I’m all open to critique, but the way it’s approached makes a difference. Asking, maybe it would be nice in black and white because the pink is distracting is much different than saying it didn’t deserve to win. Obviously, someone else (the judges) thought it did deserve to win. And no one asked for your critique.

  11. Mike

    It’s a phenomenal picture. Much better than I could do. Such a cute subject, too. I’d like to see some of Stan’s work. Sound’s like he’s quite the photographer.

  12. Al

    Congrats to the winner & the runner-ups. There were many great entries and I’m sure it was tuff to pick a winner. I believe anytime you post your pics on a social forum you are asking for critique of your work. I find it hard to believe out of all the entries not 1 guy was selected even in a runner ups slot. Were the finalist chosen from how many likes and comments the shots had on FB & the judges then picked their favorites? If so there were some awesome images that were missed because the photgrapher may not have had as many friends “liking” there photos. Just Saying…

  13. Frank Tyson

    I agree with Al in one thing that if they were indeed judged by the number of Likes from friends then the more friends you have the more likes you will get makes sense doesnt it Post it on your timeline with a link also in any groups on facebook you belong to and next thing you know you get heaps of them
    So the question as he asked was How were the entries judged?

  14. Author
    Jim Harmer

    @Al and @Frank Tyson – The winners were NOT chosen by the number of likes or comments. Dustin and I looked through each and every entry and chose the winners according to what we think the best photos are.

  15. Author
    Jim Harmer

    The fact that the winners were female is frankly not too surprising if you consider that 72% of our followers on Facebook are female, and the contest was run through our Facebook page.

  16. Al

    Yea i guess it puts us guys at a disadvantage. I thought Robynn Jablonski photo was awesome just a great shot all around. I entered several shots but mine were all macro. Maybe you could try a macro contest someday. Thanks for all your hard work running this site.

  17. Stan

    Sorry. Didn’t mean to offend anyone. I just started photography…about 4 weeks ago. I thought it was good to critique? Would I want someone telling me my crappy photos were awesome..heck no. The winner is not a crappy photo by the way, top 3 at least.

    I was just stating my opinion. I am most likely wrong since I have only read 2 books, my T2i manual, and this blog.

  18. Gloria

    I enjoyed viewing as many photos as I could and I am glad I was not the judge. I have judge photo contest on a much smaller scale and it is heart ranching. I submitted my photo not expecting to win but I was happy to enter the competition because I learned about DOF through my beginners class with Jim and Dustin. Before I took the class I had received complements on my photos DOF and I had no clue what DOF was. Congratulations to all the winners and it was a joy to see the entries from all over the world.

  19. Tara

    I think it is gorgeous! Just proves that you DONT have to own a Mark 3 to take amazing photos. It really IS the photographer, skill, and PASSION above all else. My favorite go to camera is the xsi. why? its light, does the job, and i just love it :) you did great!

  20. Steve

    Personally, I love this picture. Primarily for the eyes, how you can see a hint of the color; for the skin tones being a light pink and matches the bokeh of the tree in the background which ties the two elements together for me. The snowflakes are what add the magic of the moment. The stark colors of the jacket add a bit of contrast to the overall image, but might be just as nice without it-perhaps even better, but it’s there and I like it. Overall, the image is pleasing and if you don’t overanalyze it, it is a nice, well shot image of a beautiful young girl enjoying the snowflakes in the great outdoors. That is always a winner!

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  22. carlene

    Im new to photography and want to know if I should rush out and get the f2.8 lens or continue practicing with my sony a350 lenses???

  23. amy

    I know this is a tad old but I found this on my beloved pinterest and am burning through all the pages eating up all the info I find. Love this site, truly. I would just like to say with my graphic design background, what makes this shot work (for me) with the pink… it pulls the colors out. The touch of pink in the top of her hood, in her lower lip, the flush in her cheek. The flash of pink on the jacket ties all that color together to make it work. Your eye may start at that corner but then you look for the pops of pink, and find them in all the right spots because of the color, taking your eye all over the picture. Without it…. the picture might not be as dynamic as it is. Love it. Very inspiring to try to be as creative.

  24. Nikkie

    I think this is a gorgeous photo, my eye is drawn to her face, specifically to her eye region, not the coat and the colors add to the dreaminess of the photo. The flakes look wonderful. I am the same type of photographer, capturing true emotions. We are all different.

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